Several years ago, USA Today began experimenting with how display ads are showcased on its platform. The team behind reinventing the news outlet’s display ads works for the USA Today Network, the 2015 rebranding of the national news brand and its collection of 92 local news outlets around the country.

The USA Today Network not only brings together a stable of journalists from cities around the United States but also an innovative approach to placing advertising across the many news websites connected to the publisher.

Jeff Burkett, the vice president of ad innovations at USA Today Network, has focused on combining imaging recognition technology with data science in order to analyze the digital ads that run across the network’s 110 websites. This powerful mix of data and imaging allows the service to evaluate the impact of ad design on performance.

“The team is using this to determine the elements of ads and the specific creative aspects of what helps an ad perform better and make adjustments so the publisher is serving the best possible ad design to help its advertisers reach their campaign goals,” USA Today Network said in a statement. “We will also produce a tool that will analyze an ad and then predict its future performance based on its design.”

The customized ad formatting is meant to make the ads far more engaging to viewers.

“It’s the display ad, but better,” Burkett told Digiday last year about his system. “These are proprietary formats we think are going to have advertising perform better, and readers will like them. I think you’ll start to see more ads that are built this way.”

USA Today Network harnesses data from Google to build ads that will appeal to the visitors of the dozens of news sites owned by the famed media company.

“A lot of digital advertising products were created without considering the user’s experience,” Burkett said regarding Google’s data products. “We believe you must lead with the user, which in turn delivers greater results for the marketer.”

Burkett was also interested in the rise of ad blockers over the past few years. He wanted to create ads that were less annoying and more customized toward the user visiting a website, thereby reducing the need for ad blocking software.

And on the advertising side, the imaging technology is becoming far easier to customize.

“Advertisers provide us the basic elements and we’re able to take the individual pieces and drag and drop them in,” Burkett continued. “The ads are easily produced, and we can add on customizations in the review process.”

Burkett believes the industry is shifting toward making display ads that are more personalized, even if there is some resistance in the short-term.

“Anything custom is harder to sell,” he notes. “But advertisers are definitely looking for newer and unique ideas all the time. We hope by making them quicker to build and change, it’ll help.”
Burkett and his team will speak at the DMA &THEN conference this October in Las Vegas. The USA Today Network group will share what they have learned as well as how they developed the internal platform in a session called “Imaging Tech + Data Tech = The New Formula for Ad Creative.”

This article is brought to you by &THEN, DMA’s annual event. Click here to join the leaders of the marketing community and advance your data and marketing mastery in Las Vegas, October 7-9.